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Driving simulator will improve training, save lives of Texas firefighters

2/3/2011 12:00 AM

Texas firefighters now have access to state-of-the-art emergency vehicle driver training via a mobile MPRI FireSim™ driving simulator purchased by TEEX through a grant from FEMA. The driving simulator provides realistic scenarios and real-time feedback designed to improve driver decision-making and vehicle handling over a wide range of maneuvers and driving conditions.

Driving collisions are the second leading cause of injury and death in the fire service, and this type of training can help save firefighters' lives, said Lynn Bizzell, ESTI Extension Program Director with TEEX Emergency Services Training Institute. The simulator is housed in a 32-foot trailer and will be traveling across the state to fire departments, TEEX area fire schools and other special events coordinated by the TEEX Fire Extension Training Program, which is a state-funded program that provides vital firefighter training.

"We are very excited to offer this training to enhance the safety and preparedness of all Texas firefighters, especially those in underserved areas," Bizzell said. "This type of training has been proven to reduce the number of injuries and deaths that occur while firefighters are responding to and returning from incidents."

"Driving emergency vehicles and apparatus through a busy intersection is something that cannot be practiced in a real setting," said Fire Extension Instructor Scott Matthews. "By using several computers, software driving scenarios, and three, 50-inch HD display screens, operators feel they are sitting in the driver's seat of a fire engine, special operations vehicle or command vehicle. The three screens provide forward and side views and the simulator has an instrument panel and all the controls of a fire truck, including brake and accelerator pedals."

He added that the simulator has adjustable rearview mirrors and even a steering wheel that vibrates and provides resistance feedback if the driver hits a curb or the vehicle has a flat tire. The driver may experience various weather or visibility challenges and changing scenery from city and suburbs to open highway and rural areas. The unexpected driving challenges, such as a pedestrian stepping into the street or vehicles entering the road or stopping suddenly in front of the driver, are controlled by an instructor and can be added to the pre-programmed scenarios, Matthews said.

Initially, the simulator will be used for basic vehicle driving, but eventually, additional advanced driving classes and special driving scenarios, such as school zones and intersections will be added, Matthews said. The simulator is customizable to many other emergency, municipal and personal vehicle types, allowing it to be used for meeting the needs of many Texas emergency responders.

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Kathy Fraser

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